Delayed Exams and O/L Student Blues
By Eunice Ruth
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of complications in each and every sector in Sri Lanka and it made a new environment with unique implications to continue all work from a distance. Especially in the education sector, it has created major changes in learning, teaching and other educational processes within the country.
Education is one of the most critical sectors affected by the global pandemic. Most Governments temporarily closed schools, universities and other public and private educational institutions to prevent the spread of the virus. Although it was considered a wise decision, it badly affected students around the world. The continuous lockdowns has had a significant impact not only on students' education but also on their mental health.
Online education has presently become an essential component of Sri Lanka's education sector and also there are many obstacles and challenges in continuing online education in the country. However, much importance was not given for online education system before COVID-19 but, during the pandemic and after the closure of schools, universities and other educational institutes, the Government of Sri Lanka promoted the online mode as an alternative solution to continuing educational activities.
Even though many public and private education institutes are providing online learning facilities, they considered it merely an option and not as a new side of learning. Online education has been introduced as a learning tool amidst the curfew, but it is hard for everyone to shift to online platforms from physical classrooms. Unfortunately there are some students who still lack resources to take online classes. Major challenges encountered in terms of online education is the lack of practical tests, assessments, examinations, student-teacher physical interactions and supervision of teachers and above all the declining mental well-being of students. Even if schools and institutes started online classes to counter delays in academics; there are still delays in the GCE Ordinary Level (O/L) Examination; which has impacted students psychologically.
Students who are sitting the GCE Ordinary Level (O/L) Examination, this March, said they are affected mentally due to various reasons. Staying at home, attending online classes and other issues that have arisen during their prolonged stay at home were among the issues they face and most preferred to attend school as they find it difficult to concentrate on studies at home.
All of them recommended the traditional education system, which is a teacher-student centred system because it is more useful to address issues which have arisen from the online method. They say they all want to finish the exam as soon as possible without delay.
A 16-year-old boy sitting for exams this year said that nothing is more precious for a student than studying with their teacher, as they have experienced and practiced the physical education system for years; right from nursery level. But COVID-19 has changed all that and has created a new environment where one can’t even meet their teachers, friends or other staffs at school.
Lockdowns and distance learning has created a system for every student to learn on their own without depending on a teacher and also it has increased the knowledge of online platforms for both teachers and students. However it has bad impact as well. Students can’t clear their doubts effectively and online classes create inconveniences both physically and mentally for both teachers and students.
All the students who are sitting the exam this year still have so many doubts, that is how their exams are going to be and they are even scared about it. Because all their study schedules have been effected due to electronic device use and students use the mobile for other activities such playing games, chatting with friends and watching movies or cartoons. Apart from this, the online educational system has also brought health complications such as eyesight problems, sleep problems, lethargy, shoulder pains and headache.
Jonathan said that, he and all his friends have been affected so badly after O/L exams were postponed from December 2020 to March 2021. This delay has caused mental stress and depression. He said that he personally faces many health issues due to continuous mobile phone use for back-to-back online classes. “Sometimes I have problems connecting to the internet, where I can’t go online to attend the classes.
“However, even if we study and try to prepare for exams, we are still not mentally ready. During the pandemic, we had different kinds of issues such as financial issues, family issues and others, but among all the issues, the major issue was the interruption to our study cycle. We are not used to this online system and we cannot clear our doubts without the help of a teacher. Even if we raise our doubts and the teacher helps us, we still don’t understand the explanation, but it would be easier to clear doubts if there is physical interaction,” Jonathan said.
Also, he said that he is unable to go out to meet his friends and they are unable to conduct group studies which he prefers as the best way to learn.
Speaking to Ashan regarding the upcoming O/L examination, he said that the major problem these days is losing concentration on studies and that now he is even scared of the exam. He also said that not everybody had the same privileges and the quarantine made some face unexpected problems.
“Studying from home and working from home might be good and convenient for some people but others suffer from many struggles and inconveniences.
We are not familiar with these online classes and most importantly studying a subject like mathematics on an online platform is really hard. We even experience lot of distractions while taking online classes but we still try to complete our lessons as it is the most important thing in our lives. Even if we have no threats from the society, we are still severely affected by depression and stress which makes us lose interest in studies,” he said.
Another student who is eagerly waiting to finish exams soon said that she is tired of waiting as repeating and studying the same thing for another three months will make her forget everything she studied for.
“Previously, we studied and prepared ourselves for the exam in December but after COVID-19 and the exam’s postponement, we were so disappointed that we have to study the same thing and have to prepare ourselves again,” Nayomi said.
She also said that sometimes they have to take one online class after another continuously while sitting in one place for hours at a time and that is making her and other students physically weak. “Taking an online class at home is not easy and it’s difficult to continue with so many other things going on,” she said. Studying in school gives us more clarity on the subject and now we miss our classrooms. Also, in the online system we have to refer all our notes, exam papers and books in soft copy format which is even hard to study.
She said that she hasn’t started self-studying yet and preparing for exams again is the hardest part. “Anyhow, we are still trying hard to study and finish. Studying online and doing pass papers is still boring as we are doing the same thing for so long after the lockdowns and curfews.
She further said that she shares her personal feelings with friends more than she does with her parents and that is the best way of stress relief she knows. But even if the curfew is lifted, they cannot meet and release their stress and she also said that she feels so lonely after being home for more than eight months.
“Due to this online system we are facing some financial issues where we are unable to pay class fees and also purchasing essentials for online classes is not easy for everyone, she added. Sometimes, even if the teachers didn’t conduct online classes they want us to pay fees on time and not everyone can afford to do so; which is unfair.
She noted that she had other plans after O/Ls, but due to COVID-19, they won’t be possible. “Continuing in the online system for long will affect each and every student so badly; physically and mentally,” Nayomi added.
Rachel said that she prepared for the examinations on December and that she had other plans after O/Ls, but said that all of that has gone awry after exam dates were postponed. “Previously it was postponed to January, that was a bit okay and now again postponing it to March has spoiled all our future plans. She also said that continuous studying will confuse everyone. “Even now I’m scared of facing the exam. Also we are always tensed and stressed due to the postponement. If the exams have been done by last December, we could have been preparing for our Advanced Level examinations by now and we would have completed some other diploma studies too. I had no facilities to access online classes and so I missed a lot of studies.
Mercy, another student said that the new syllabus for O/L was introduced to her batch and the contents were similar to those from the Grade-9. So, she and her friends expected the exam to be easy and covered the curriculum by last November.
“But after the postponement, forgetting everything and study the same thing again and again made us feel so irritated. We planned so many things to do after O/Ls and we’ve planned about the school where we should go for our A/L’s, but due to the postponement, everything has changed and we are now confused. We were so confident that we all will get good results with 9A’s at the exam, but now all has changed. We’ve even lost our self confidence,” she said.
“Normally, we get more out of normal classroom sessions but learning online is not for me. Looking at a screen or phone for hours is irritating more than anything. Personally, I need student-teacher interaction and I recommend starting school as soon as possible so we can build our self confidence within two months and do our exams well. We don’t learn anything from screen grabs or notes, and it is hard to understand anything online even if a teacher clears a doubt repeatedly.”
She further said that most students will transfer after the O/L and that she will miss her friends. “This is our last year to be with our friends and teachers. But this pandemic put everything upside down. We lost the best days of our lives.”
Mercy also highlighted one major issue. She said that she will continue her studies in her English medium but said that the English medium fees were much higher than Sinhala and Tamil medium fees, and that after online classes commenced, the fee is usually increased. “Sometimes teachers excuse us for not paying fees on time, but at the same time some don’t share the link to join the class because we have not paid. We have to pay up even if we don’t understand what is being taught, so many of us think it is a waste of money. But we still have to sit for classes because of the exams this year. And due to the long hiatus, all our teachers say that the exams will be tough, but the most pressing issues are what we have to go through psychologically because of problems at home. The teachers always force us to study but parents don’t understand us.”
*Names have been changed at their request